Telemedicine for pets and people alike has exploded in popularity. And now, remote pet cancer consulting is a reality. Even if you don’t live near an oncology clinic, Dr. Rachel Venable, DVM, MS, DACVIM (Oncology), is bringing virtual pet oncology consulting to pets in the US and Canada, with her new consulting group, Pet Cancer Care Consulting.
Today on Tripawd Talk Radio, you’ll learn all about this innovative way to get the facts about pet cancer care for your Tripawd, even if you don’t live near an oncology clinic.
Remote Pet Cancer Consulting Makes Care More Accessible
In Tripawd Talk Radio Episode #106, we speak with Dr Rachel Venable about how pet cancer care consulting makes treatment more accessible than ever. Listen to the podcast below in the player, watch the video below, and get the nitty gritty in the show transcript that follows.
Dr. Venable is a Board Certified medical oncologist who obtained her veterinary degree from the University of Missouri. She completed her residency at the renowned CSU Flint Animal Cancer Center.
And now, she’s founded the Pet Cancer Care Consulting service. It’s a way for pet owners who want to consult with a veterinary oncologist but cannot access one in their area. Anyone in North America can consult with Dr. Venable, along with their vet to discuss the best treatment plan for their pets with cancer.
Coping with your pet’s cancer is challenging enough. With only about 450 boarded veterinary oncologists in the US and Canada, what do you do without access to vet oncology services near you? Learn all about remote Pet Cancer Care Consulting with Dr. Rachel Venable on this episode of Tripawd Talk Radio!
Transcript: Remote Pet Cancer Care Consulting
with Rachel Venable, DVM, MS, DACVIM (Oncology)
TRIPAWDS: Dr. Venable, thank you for what you’re doing, and welcome to the show. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career in veterinary oncology.
DR. VENABLE: Oh, thank you. And I agree with you, I think knowledge is power. Right? No matter what you do with it, just knowing it gives you so much more comfort and just, I find people just calm down, you know, after that concert. Whether or not they try, they decide therapy or palliative care, they just, you can tell they calm down. But going to my story, so I’m actually a farm girl. So I grew up in the Midwest, out in middle of nowhere. So always been around animals, and some kind of gravitated towards veterinary medicine that way.
I had no idea about specialties. You know, I didn’t know their oncology, or anything. Like I said, I grew up in rural Missouri. So I guess the nearest oncologist where I grew up would have been about three hours away. So kind of a similar, you know, there was nobody like that.
In that school, that’s where I found out more about oncology and really got interested in it there. And a lot of it was somewhat the medicine side of it. I really like just all the research and it was just so fascinating, and the One Health approach, so how human’s and dog’s cancer is actually fairly similar, and how we can get therapies to help both. So, really got excited about that. And also, helping people.
When your pet gets diagnosed with cancer, you just feel helpless.
You don’t know what to do or where to go. And so, I think stepping in as that person of trying to help, you know, provide empathy, and just sort of a guide, however, whatever path they choose. I also really enjoyed that, just trying to help people in kind of a helpless situation.
And from there, as far as kind of my journey as far as education and things, I guess you kind of already went over all that. See, I do my internship and residency, and then I’ve been working in private practice for several years, and just recently started the teleconsulting, the Pet Cancer Care Consulting.
Why Remote Pet Cancer Consulting?
TRIPAWDS: Did COVID have a big play in this role to go remote?
DR. VENABLE: You know, it did. I don’t think I would have thought of this concept before COVID. You know, I think with COVID, Zoom became a thing. It’s like a verb now, you know, and I didn’t know about it pre-COVID. And so I think with COVID, it really brought to my mind just how people are more accepting of video chats and remote conversations, where I think before, maybe not as much. You know, I certainly wasn’t familiar with it outside of like, short Skype meetings or things, so.
And also, with COVID, and it had been building up, but it certainly got worse, just the wait to come in to see me. I mean, that was what got really frustrating as I just… you know, everything trying to do, but there was still this really long wait.
Giving Everyone Their Pet Cancer Care Options
And then also, I knew there were lots of clients falling through the cracks between that wait or the drive. You know, like you guys were saying, it’s just they’re so far away, or clients that just get immediately sort of unsure if they want to see the oncologist, because it feel– they feel like they have to jump through all these hoops to even get to one.
So that was the other real thing that brought to my mind, there’s got to be a better way, you know. There’s got to be another way to reach more people. There’s just so many dogs, unfortunately, and cats that get cancer, and there’s just really not that many oncologists. There’s something like, I want to say with the American Cancer Institute, or the National Cancer Institute said about 6 million dogs a year are diagnosed with cancer. And there’s actually less than 450 boarded veterinary oncologists in the US and Canada. So clearly, there’s not enough of us.
How Remote Pet Cancer Care Consulting Works
DR. VENABLE: What my model is, is basically trying to partner with a family vet to try to reach more of those clients that aren’t getting reached , you know, for the reasons I mentioned, either the drive, wait time. You know, sometimes people, too, they’re not really sure if they want to see the vet or not and/or the oncologist vet, I should say. And, but they keep asking their vet tons of questions. You know, they keep calling and asking, and you know, and it’s just not fair for the family vet. They can’t know everything about everything, and oncology certainly changes all the time. It’s a lot just for the oncologist to keep up with it.
So what I do is basically from my website, which is www.petcancercareconsulting.com, so from there, it really describes everything. But also, vet clinics can make an account, so there’s a vet portal. So vet clinics can make an account, and then from there, they can actually schedule, and upload records. And so it’s a great way for us to communicate.
A Team Approach with Your Vet, Dr. Venable, and your Tripawd
And once somebody has made an appointment, what that day looks like is I would have reviewed the records. So I touch base first as a vet. So the vet and the pet owner are actually there at the clinic. So it’s kind of like a recheck exam. And so I talk with the vet, just to make sure, and the pet owner is there as well, like I said. So kind of making sure like I’ve got the right idea of what’s going on.
I have the vet do a quick examine of the pet, so I can see them, and also make sure like the tumor is not coming back, or there’s not big lymph nodes, you know, those sort of changes. And then I talk really in detail about the cancer and goes through testing, treatment, prognosis, all those things. And it’s something where the vet can definitely stay in the exam room that whole time, or sometimes they have to pop in and out because they have other appointments, or that kind of thing, and that’s fine. But I really get to talk with the owner in real time.
And so that way, they can ask me questions. And I also type up notes while I’m doing it, so they can kind of follow along, because it is usually a pretty long, detailed conversation, you know. It’s a lot to follow. So I try to make it as easy as you can. And then I also, afterwards type up really detailed summaries and handouts. So I give those to the vet clinic and the pet owner directly.
And then I’m also available afterwards if they would like detailed treatment protocols or just follow up, you know, things changed with a pet, or they want me to look at images, that kind of thing. I’m available to help kind of, again, partner with that family vet and follow along.
Your Pet’s Cancer Care Team Includes Your Family Vet
TRIPAWDS: Does the veterinarian actually do the treatment themselves? And who is the ideal veterinarian to do this kind of thing?
DR. VENABLE: Yeah, that’s a great question. So a lot… it depends. So I would say a lot of times, the vet will do the treatment, depending on what it is. And I think sometimes, too, the stigma is the only treatment is IV chemo. And you know, there are situations where IV chemotherapy is the best for sure. But there’s a lot anymore where there’s good pill options. I think pharmaceutical companies are finding that sort of the way of the future.
I think even in people, they can’t– they, you know people like pills. And so, that’s what they’re doing more with dogs. So there’s more and more pill options. And so a lot of times, you know, family vets, I think feel more comfortable with that too, because they don’t need any special equipment for that. And I go over with the owners, you know, all the safety precautions of handling, and that kind of thing.
Partnering with Local Oncologists, Too
For IV chemo, it depends. There are some family vets that will do that, and they’re set up for it. Otherwise, we partner with other local oncologist. I’m here in Arizona, and so there’s a local oncologist that if clients do the consult with me, she’s actually able to get them in a little bit sooner for IV chemo as like a drop off type appointment.
So that’ll be something in other areas, see what we can figure out as far as what works with the other oncologists’ structure and things. So they certainly want to do to service outside of just Arizona. You know, I see it as something for the whole country. So, that’s where the IV chemo… It can get a little bit more tricky, but it certainly isn’t the only thing.
A Cancer Care Partnership with Family Veterinarians
And the ideal that I would say for this is really anybody that is looking for that next level of care for their clients. They want to practice good quality medicine and you know, they can really partner with an oncologist. I mean, that’s really the way I see it is a partnership. And a lot of times it actually can bring revenue to their clinic, because they’re doing different testing, or different treatments. Like I said, whether it’s pills, and sometimes it’s palliative care, you know, adding another pain medications, or maybe antibiotics.
There are things they just, you know, hadn’t really thought of before. And a lot of times, after the consult, especially with the client being there, a lot of times they actually decide to, you know, I want to go ahead and run this blood test, or let’s sample this lymph node or other mass, or that kind of thing.
So, it is something I think for the vets, it’s not just being able to practice a higher level of medicine, because you’re working, partnering with an oncologist. But it can also bring some revenue to your clinic by doing testing and treatments that you might not have otherwise done.
What About Immunotherapy Treatment for Pets?
TRIPAWDS: Do you also consult any areas of immunotherapy for pets? Because I know there’s a lot that are coming out now that family vets can administer. But is that an area that you’re also consulting in?
DR. VENABLE: Yes. I think immunotherapy is great, you know. We’ve got the melanoma vaccine, there’s new, there’s always new technology coming out. Torigen is a new one that came out. And they were really doing some research. I think some of the immunotherapy and with anything new, I think you always have to do your research. Because some, there are some companies that make pretty wild claims that they can cure cancer, but then you can’t find any published research, you know. It’s all in-house, and they won’t really give it to you. And you look at the website, and it’s like, where are these numbers coming from?
But, Torigen, I like them. They really are trying to publish, and you know, they’re kind of adding an extra step to that. Because some of the immunotherapy, the vaccine technology has been around for a long time, and hasn’t really taken off. And so I think it’s that, you know, trying to add a twist to it, trying to do different things to how can we stimulate the body.
Remote Veterinary Oncology Patient Stories
TRIPAWDS: Can you give me some examples of patients that you’ve helped recently?
DR. VENABLE: Some examples have definitely come to mind are, you know, I saw a dog with a pretty bad bone tumor. It was actually on a rib and wasn’t resectable. And so, you know, is painful for that dog to really have to move around too much. I mean, because they live actually a few hours, about a three-hour drive. So between having a painful bone tumor and just even three hours, one-way for a client, that, you know, that’s a long time. So that was definitely one where we were able to help with some pill options, actually with that one. And there’s been a few others where it’s kind of that long drive, they really didn’t want to do it.
And then there’s another one that comes to mind, a dog that had a really aggressive lung cancer, but actually couldn’t get in anywhere for about three months. And so it was something where I think the owner just kind of got beat down and sort of stopped trying a bit, you know. And then I had talked with her vet, and so they learned about my services, and she was very excited, you know, just getting, get more of that information. And again, we ended up actually doing another pill option. So there’s a lot of those different pills, and still, IVs have a very big role. But I think sometimes, like I said, there’s a lot, a lot more out there that we can do.
Getting Comfortable with Pet Cancer Care Options
Some of those guys were… like that poor dog, it just, she just couldn’t get in. And then I definitely seen some, where I could tell the clients just had so many questions, but they were kind of nervous about seeing an oncologist. And you can tell that they’re just comfortable there with their family vet.
And like you mentioned, people do really like that they see us talking in real time. And I think it helps really with that continuity of care, because I can directly ask. There are some things in the notes where you could kind of, it’s up for interpretation, or maybe in my mind, I see it differently than how they meant to write it, or vice versa, and so it is nice.
Because even in human medicine, you know, one of my kids actually got pretty sick this summer and seeing all the different doctors, and there were times where it was frustrating, because it was like, I don’t think you guys are on the same page. You know, like, nobody would prescribe, she actually had a bone infection, and nobody would prescribe a pain medicine. And she was in so much pain. But it just seemed like they were all nervous.
And I get it, and I said with kids, but it was, you could tell there was a disconnect, because nobody was talking. And so it is nice with this, even just be… yeah, with the specialists and the vet that directly with that client being able to talk in real time, and the pet owners there. Because sometimes, they bring something up and you’re like, oh… you know, “Oh, yeah.” Like that wasn’t really in the record or there’s a change. And so, it is nice having that three-way conversation.
Where to Find Remote Pet Cancer Care Consulting Help
TRIPAWDS: Are there places where you still can’t practice this consulting? Are you wide open to the US and Canada?
DR. VENABLE: So for the most part, I believe I’m wide open to the US and Canada. And the difference being, but having said that, I have a lawyer, and we do check every state. So it’s something we, I certainly double check. So it’s something where I believe I should be fine, but I do my research at the same time.
The reason I think I’m fine is because that client-patient relationship, that’s the big thing everybody always talks about. And so, you know, a vet-to-vet conversation, the consultation, that’s generally fine, even across state lines, because like radiologists, they’ve been doing that for a long time. Or radiologists, I mean, sometimes they’re not even in the US, right? But they’re just digitally reading radiographs and can talk back and forth.
Keeping Your Pet’s Cancer Care Team Informed
And it has always been something where you can’t necessarily talk to the client and give detailed information unless you have that client-patient relationship. And so what I’m doing is because I’m partnering with a family vet, who has that relationship, and they’re part of the conversation, that’s how I’m able to help talk to the client, and give them details about their pets disease.
It’s because I’m consulting with the supervising vet, who’s in real time all right there. So it’s not a situation where I would just talk to the client without the vet. There are some states where you could get that client-patient relationship remotely, but to be honest, I want the vet involved. I think it’s better medicine. Even for me, I like to make sure what the vet has seen and just partnering with them.
I can’t prescribe medication to these people I’m talking to. And again, I really wouldn’t want to. I really want to make sure we’re on the same page with a vet, and having a vet involved. I think it would get so confusing if it was a separate thing. And then the client comes to the vet, and they’re like, well, this oncologist online, put me on this, and it’s like, oh.
Plan Options for Remote Pet Cancer Care Consulting Help
TRIPAWDS: I noticed that you offer a pay per visit kind of model or a subscription model. Can you explain those two different types?
DR. VENABLE: The difference is, basically, one of them is, you know, the pay per request or conversation, honestly, I can’t think of really the best thing to call it because it’s not like just a one comment. It can certainly be a back and forth conversation. But that’s where a couple months down the road, they do chest x-rays, and they want me to take a look at them, or they, you know, something’s changed on them. And so they’re wondering, should we change the therapy or the pets having issues. So those are ways that the vet can actually log into that portal, and we can message back and forth that way.
It’s not necessarily another live video, there is a recheck option for the video recheck. But that’s just a lot more coordinating. So with this, it’s more of a quick, like if the vets has seen them and then whenever they get a chance to sit down the computer, they can type up the notes to me, and then I get back for them pretty quickly.
It’s something where it could just be kind of a per conversation. Or if it’s a pet that you know is going to be coming back a lot, maybe like a lymphoma or something that’s not doing really well, if the owner and the vet would like to have more contact with me, that’s what that subscription would be. So they could contact me multiple times within that month, and it’s just one price.
How does billing work?
TRIPAWDS: Does the client pay the veterinarian directly after you bill them? Or how does the billing situation work?
DR. VENABLE: I actually bill the vet clinic, and that has something to do too with some of the regulations. As a consultant, more to the vet, because they’re the ones that have the relationship. I bill the vet clinic, and then the vet clinic forwards that cost on to the client.
It’s like when you send out lab tests, right? So the vet clinic sends out the, whether it’s tissue blood, whatever, to a lab. So they actually, the lab charges them, and then they forward that cost on to the client. So to me, it’s a similar sort of fee structure.
TRIPAWDS: Do you plan on adding more teammates?
DR. VENABLE: I do, yes. I agree. I think, yeah, there’s certainly a limit to how many I could see, right? And so then I run into the same problem I had before. So I definitely want to have other oncologists join the team as we go along. And I think that will help to someone with different time zones, you know. In some ways, it might be convenient because out the East, so they would probably feel like, “Oh, she stays open really late,” because my times are so different.
But at some point, it would be nice, you know, more of the same time. So yeah, my five-year goal is certainly to have several oncologists working together, and you know, all with that same goal of, OK, how can we partner with a family vet to really gain access to oncology care, to all those people that are falling through the cracks?
What About Tripawds and Other Pets Outside North America?
TRIPAWDS: Are you able to consult outside of the US?
DR. VENABLE: I believe Canada, but, and it’s one of those, I think it will be kind of a per country. . . . I’m certainly open to it. I think, but like you said, it’s a case-by-case. Just unfortunately, well, and yes and no, right, there’s legal restrictions. So those always have their pluses and minuses, but I would certainly just have to review it.
TRIPAWDS: It sounds like the best place to start for anyone to learn about remote pet cancer consulting is to ask their vet or go to petcarecancerconsulting.com and work with their vet to get in touch with you.
DR. VENABLE: Exactly.
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